Print Buyers Reflect on Best Channels for Printer's Marketing, Outreach Efforts
Printers face this dilemma as much as any other service providers, and though you might think that they should promote their companies using print, it’s not necessarily so. It boils down to what’s most effective with individual prospects.
A print buyer is like any other business person. The sale isn’t direct anymore. The path to purchasing something is more complex than ever. An interesting article by McKinsey made a key point about the consumerization of business buying. We’re all much more knowledgeable about what we want to buy today, because it’s incredibly easy (and wise) to do research online as we’re making a purchasing decision.
By the time we’ve made that decision to purchase, we’ve checked out the company, looked at similar products offered elsewhere, compared prices, read customer reviews and, in any way possible, sniffed out the good, the bad and even the ugly of doing business with a particular company.
In this sense, comparing printers is no different than shopping as a consumer. Your prospects will seek out information about your company online. They’ll search for you on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. They might Google your company name to uncover other information. They’ll look you up in the trade news. And whenever possible, they’ll try to find peer reviews. Printers should have a strong online presence, starting with a decent website and expanding from there.
Like it or not, printers should use a number of marketing channels to reach and influence prospects. Buyers are not sitting around waiting for perfect examples of direct mail to drop into their laps. They’re busy doing a dozen different things at the same time. (Aren’t we all?)
To get some fresh insight for this column, I contacted some print buying pros to find out what kinds of marketing from printers are effective for them. I got a few surprises.
I reached out to Carlo Cherubini, sourcing manager for Central Ohio Retailer/Marketing Procurement; Sal Giliberto, production manager, manufacturing and distribution, Christian Science Publishing Society; Mariah Hunt, Marketing guru and principal of Hunt Direct; and Dianne Vanacore, marketing production manager/associate brand manager for Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
They’re all senior-level print production professionals. Two of them have 30 years in the field. One has 20+ years. The fourth has 18 years. And two have worked in printing for years before moving to the customer side.
I asked just a few basic questions about printers’ marketing efforts. What works for them and what doesn’t? What would be the ideal type of marketing from a printing company? Do any recent marketing efforts stand out as stark-raving successes or four-star flops?
Three of these customers are typically approached by email, by phone or, in Mariah Hunt’s case, by LinkedIn. Dianne Vanacore usually gets a phone call followed up by an email — or vice versa. Sal Gilberto prefers email to phone calls because it’s less disruptive and also because it gives him time to think about his response.
I found Carlo Cherubini’s response eye-opening: he receives “little to zero cold calls” and very few random email or mail solicitations. Mostly, new contacts come from their supplier diversity program, or he meets new providers at events like Global Shop or SGIA.
Do they spend more time with print solicitations from printers? “I always critique material they send,” said Hunt. But she added that if it’s of poor quality, or if her name is misspelled (this happens a lot), she immediately tosses it out. And being the direct marketing queen that she is (Mariah’s the current president of NEDMA, BTW), she “ALWAYS” looks at the indicia to see if the printer sent the piece or if a lettershop did.
Giliberto has graphic design training and experience, so he’s looking for great design and print quality on any print marketing he gets. As busy as he is, he doesn’t have a ton of time to go through marketing materials.
Vanacore and her team review all print materials. Anything unique gets saved (like a fold, varnish or special stock). They’re “always looking for new print/design.” A good printed piece will drive Cherubini to the company’s website to check them out; other ones get tossed.
What about marketing approaches that knocked their socks off? Cherubini singled out Hopkins Printing in Columbus, Ohio, for keeping their company “top of mind.” He gets a quarterly mailing, 5x7˝ pads that are well designed and three-month calendars. It’s kind of a promotional/informational combo, but it works. It’s excellent that they reach out to customers and/or prospects on a regular basis. That’s what it’s all about.
Giliberto gave a shout out to Shawmut Printing, here in Massachusetts, noting that its marketing campaigns are “well thought-out, creative and look good.” (I’ve seen Shawmut’s work over the years. It has always impressed me.)
I figured asking about campaigns from printers that were real “stinkers” would inform some readers, or at least warn you. I had to ask.
A printer sent Hunt a great big box, which was obviously expensive to send. They misspelled her name. What was inside? Just a big batch of samples, which weren’t particularly good. “What a waste!”
Both Vanacore and Giliberto shared a common complaint — not about a particular campaign or the channel used, but rather, that prospective printers wouldn’t take no for an answer and weren’t listening to what they were saying. It’s not OK to stop by without an invitation when prospects have made it clear they’ll be in touch if and when.
Could be I’ve saved the best for last: I asked these customers to describe the ideal type of solicitation from a printer. What would get their attention? What would they most likely respond to?
Knowing what you already do about Giliberto, you’d be right if you guessed he prefers emails. Don’t give up if you don’t hear back right away. Try again in a week or so. But do find out what he does and what his company’s all about. If you get to meet him, bring good samples. “Most of all, listen to what I’m saying — and be prepared to take no for an answer.”
Vanacore prefers a phone call or email, but printers have to be ready to explain what their niche is. She’s listening to learn what sets a printer apart. Another comment she made is representative of so many buyers I know: “It’s no longer just print; it’s integrated marketing.” She looks for printers that keep up with marketing trends and who can demonstrate how they can help her organization with their marketing campaigns.
Then there’s Hunt and Cherubini, who both said if they had their druthers, they’d want to get a video. (In case you’re thinking they must be millennials, these are the two customers with 30 years’ experience apiece.)
Cherubini described having researched printers in another area of the country, saying that “… with YouTube and other formats to easily access video, I don’t mind spending three to five minutes looking at your shop and getting some insight to your company’s personality.” He added that a good video showing an owner and his or her shop can tell a good story. He looks at the background of the video at the same time for a sense of cleanliness, maintenance and so on.
Hunt also cast a vote for video. Make it short and send it in a well-written email. Printers should tell customers how they’ll make them look better, she added, and make their lives easier.
While polling four print customers isn’t the same as polling 400, I suspect that 400 answers to these questions would still be broad. Print marketing alone won’t bring success, nor will 100% dependence on any other one channel. Printers need to be strategic when marketing for new business. Keep the quality of your communications (i.e., your content) extremely high. Know your prospects and their companies as much as possible, and be able to explain what sets you apart. PI
Long regarded as a print buyer expert and trade writer, Margie Dana launched a new business as a marketing communications strategist with a specialty in printing and print buying. She is as comfortable working in social media as she is in traditional media, and now she’s on a mission to help clients build customer communities through carefully crafted content. Dana was the producer of the annual Print & Media Conference.
Although she has exited the event business, Dana is still publishing her Print Tips newsletter each week. For more details and to sign up for her newsletter and marketing blog, visit www.margiedana.com